The Neuroscience of Christmas Caroling

Română

As you’re reading the title, you might be asking yourself: “Really, there’s a neuroscience of Christmas caroling? What’s there to neuroscience about? It’s just singing some silly songs about that silly figgy pudding to pass the time before you can finally sit down and eat said figgy pudding. I mean, yeah, sure, it does seem to warm your soul, but then again, maybe that’s just from all the mulled wine.” The short answer is yes, there absolutely is a neuroscience of Christmas caroling (and other types of group singing), because that “warm soul” feeling doesn’t come (just) from the mulled wine. It comes from your brain and from a cute little hormone that’s all the buzz nowadays, namely oxytocin.

Oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone”, is a type of hormone produced by a portion of your brain called the hypothalamus. Perhaps the most well-known function of this small molecule is the facilitation of childbirth. But oxytocin does so much more than that. Numerous studies have shown to be involved in many complex human social behaviours, such as empathy, trust and generosity, suppression of anxiety, and social bonding.

At the same time, studies investigating effects of group singing compared to solo singing have found that the former leads to increased prosocial behaviour and bonding. Since these are some of the behaviours for which oxytocin is responsible, it made sense to check whether oxytocin and group singing are in any way related. For that, researchers followed two lines of reasoning.

In the first place, researchers checked whether the oxytonergic system (the one responsible for producing oxytocin in the brain), group singing, and engaging in prosocial behaviours share similar brain regions. The underlying assumption in this case is that, if they do, then there is a possible interaction between the three. For example, activating the oxytonergic system might lead to prosocial behaviour, while group singing might activate the oxytonergic system (which, in turn, increases prosocial behaviours). Scientists did find quite a few regions which are shared between the three, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, or nucleus accumbens. These regions are part of something we’ve mentioned before, i.e. the limbic system, which has been consistenly shown to play a role in emotion and social processing, among others. However, this evidence is not sufficient to claim a definite relationship between oxytocin and group singing. On the one hand, there are many other functions which have been associated with these brain areas (such as motivation, learning, and memory). On the other hand, this is only correlational evidence, which means that we cannot say exactly if group singing leads to increased oxytocin or increased oxytocin makes people suddenly want to be part of a musical.

So scientists moved on to the second line of reasoning: does group singing cause oxytocin levels in the body to increase? Unfortunately, this is where things get a little bit murky: studies reported conflicting results, i.e. either increases or decreases in oxytocin levels after group singing. At first glance, this doesn’t make much sense, but there is a good explanation for these results.

There are two options to measure oxytocin concentrations in the body: centrally (i.e., in the central nervous system, for example by taking a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid) or peripherally (in the blood or saliva). As you can imagine, the first option is a lot harder, because it is more invasive (one would have to use a really big needle to extract fluid from the spine), so most studies go with the saliva option. And that’s a problem, because the peripheral oxytocin concentration doesn’t always reflect the concentration in the brain. To make matters worse, peripheral oxytocin is not only released in response to pleasurable events, but also in response to stress (think childbirth, when oxytocin is released to make you feel better about the whole thing). That means, if researchers do not appropriately control for stress levels (maybe someone feels extra-stressed when singing together with strangers), this will affect the results of their study.

Now what’s the bottom line? Is oxytocin warming your soul when you sing with others or not? To put it simply: most likely. There is a lot of evidence which points in this direction. First of all, both oxytocin and group singing lead to increased prosocial behaviour and bonding. Secondly, there are shared brain areas between the oxytonergic system, group singing, and prosocial behaviour. And thirdly, group singing does affect peripheral oxytocin levels. However, the effect of stress still needs to be ironed out in the last point, and, ideally, studies measuring directly central oxytocin concentrations will bring the definite proof we need.

So there you have it: not only is there a neuroscience of Christmas caroling, but it’s also quite complicated. Still, if this article stressed you out, at least you know you can reduce that stress through an impromptu “Jingle Bells” session with your loved ones.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

Links Between the Neurobiology of Oxytocin and Human Musicality

Psychobiological Effects of Choral Singing on Affective State, Social Connectedness, and Stress: Influences of Singing Activity and Time Course

Choir versus Solo Singing: Effects on Mood, and Salivary Oxytocin and Cortisol Concentrations

The neurochemistry and social flow of singing: bonding and oxytocin

Holidays and Mental Health

Română

Winter holidays are supposed to be times full of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but even the most Christmas-cheerful among us have to admit that the reality doesn’t always meet these expectations. On the contrary, the expectation of “a great time” or even “the perfect holiday” tends to bring about a lot of stress and anxiety (just think about the last time you went gift-hunting right before Christmas), as well as depressive symptoms (for example, due to not being able to be around your loved ones). Grounded in these observations, urban legend has it that holidays lead to an increase in mental disorders. More specifically, countless newspaper stories about increases in suicide are thrown at us every year, in an attempt to warn us about the impending doom that the horrifying monster of Christmas is about to rain down on us (of course, in addition to all the other impending doom that constantly threatens our meek existence; because if you’re not scaring your audience, you’re not doing it right). But, coming back, just because a belief is popular, it doesn’t automatically make it true, so in this post we’re asking ourselves: is that really true?

In order to answer this question, studies have focused mainly on three topics: substance abuse, mood disorders, and, finally, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. So let’s look at each of them separately.

Substance abuse

Several studies have reported that, during the holiday period, there is an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol poisoning. However, although one reason for this observed increase could be that people are indeed self-medicating with alcohol because holidays make them depressed, there are other potential explanations, which are at least equally plausible. People drink more during festive events because this is a time for relaxation, when they don’t have to worry about the next day’s hangover and they can just let loose. They also tend to consume more alcohol because that’s what others around them are doing. And of course, some need that one (or ten) extra shots just to be able to get through the never-ending annual interrogatory regarding their life plans (or lack thereof).

Mood disorders

At the same time, the same studies have also confirmed that people do tend to report lower moods, decreased life satisfaction, as well as decreased emotional well-being. In other words, it’s true that people tend to feel lousier around Christmas and that these feelings can cause higher depression rates during the holiday season. Based on participants’ reports, these feelings seem to be caused by the belief that others are having a better time.

Self-harm and suicide

But here’s the kicker: self-harm and suicide attempts are actually lower during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year (although, unfortunately, they tend to spike afterwards). Moreover, there are fewer patients who require admission into the psychiatric emergency services over the holidays, so, in that sense, Christmas seems to have sort of a protective effect against psychiatric pathology.

Conclusion

To sum up, winter holidays do lead to extra alcohol consumption (not a shocker) and more deaths due to alcohol poisoning, as well as an increase in mood disorders. However, the number of suicides, as well as the number of people requiring hospitalization in psychiatric facilities is actually decreasing during Christmas.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology

Suicide rate is lowest during the holiday season, but news stories continue to say the opposite

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

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Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

On the English Bias in Science Communication

Română In the scientific world, English has become the dominant language. Most scientific articles are published in English, most advanced science books are written in English, and most scientific conferences are held in English. In theory, this sounds great. By having all scientists capable of speaking the same language, one basically eliminates this barrier, thus… Read more On the English Bias in Science Communication

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The Smell of Memories

Română

In our most recent post we talked about why our brains make the past appear rosier and we even got a brief introduction into autobiographical memories. Today we’re continuing our trip down memory lane by talking about another important memory component: smell. How many times did it happen to you to smell some freshly baked cookies and feel as if immediately transported to your grandma’s kitchen, right the night before Christmas? Did you ever wonder why that was? And why does this effect seem to be so much stronger for smell than for any other sense?

If you’ve read our post about memories, then you know that autobiographical memories (the memories you have about yourself and events in your life) are usually more detailed compared to other types of memories. Basically, these memories are not made up only of factual information, but they also contain details about your particular emotions, as well as information from your senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). What makes smell stand out, however, comes down to how connections between sensory and memory areas are organized in the brain.

Normally, on its way to more specialized brain areas (such as memory areas), information from your sensory organs has to pass through a brain region called the thalamus, which in turn relays the information to the appropriate brain areas. Smell, however, is special, in the sense that it completely bypasses the thalamus. Furthermore, before reaching the olfactory cortex, i.e. the area where information about smells becomes consciously perceived, smell makes a pit stop in the olfactory memory and processing areas of the brain. Practically, that means that we memorize and process a smell before we’re even aware of what it is.

The olfactory cortex is also connected to two important emotion-related areas: the amygdala and the limbic system. Again, memories with an emotional component, such as autobiographical memories, tend to be more vivid and longer-lasting. And since the sense of smell is directly connected both with your memory, as well as emotion processing areas, it becomes no longer surprising that various smells are able to trigger such strong feelings and memories.

So next time you’re baking cookies and they end up reminding you of Christmas at your grandma’s, you’ll know it’s because, much like those cookies, your sense of smell really is special.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

Remembrance of Odors Past

Olfaction and emotion: The case of autobiographical memory

Santa’s Lie

Română

As children, we’re taught that lying is bad and we should absolutely never do it. But as we grow up, we often land in morally gray areas: should you tell your short-tempered boss that the countless hours spent in Zoom meetings make you want to poke your eyes out or would it be better to fake a smile and quietly wait for it to be over? And should you tell your children that their presents were brought by flying reindeer and a guy in a red suit or go with the sadder truth that they were delivered by an overworked and underpaid courier? If this were a philosophy blog, we could spend hours discussing what would be the moral choice and even more hours trying to define morality. But (luckily) it’s not, so we can forget about all that stuff and focus on what really matters: what are the neurobehavioural motivations for and implications of the Santa Claus lie, both from the parents’ and the children’s perspective?

From a behavioural perspective, studies have shown that parents generally strongly promote the existence of Santa Claus in front of their children, regardless of child age (and, as we all know, the older the children get, the more elaborate the lies have to be). When questioned with respect to their motivations for encouraging this belief, parents usually report that they wish to create magic for their children and to “allow them to be kids for as long as possible”. But neuroscience suggests there might be an underlying reason: parents might also be motivated by a desire to return to the joy of childhood themselves. In line with this observation, parents also tend to describe themselves as predominantly sad when their children stop believing in Santa Claus.

When it comes to children though, the scientific literature is not so clear. Some studies describe children as having quite strong negative reactions, such as disappointment, sadness or anger upon finding out the truth, while others suggest that, even though these reactions might be present, they are usually short-lived and become quickly replaced by more positive emotions. Furthermore, because there are relatively few studies specifically on this topic, what often gets brought up as an argument against Santa Claus is more general research concerning the negative impact of parental lying on the long-term behaviour of children (which does indeed lead to increased lying and poorer psychosocial adjustment in adulthood). Based on this observation, coupled with the idea that, when someone is lied to, they become rightfully distrustful of that person, many articles jump to the conclusion that lying about Santa will ruin your kids’ lives.

“Really?”, you might think. “I believed in Santa when I was a kid and I turned out just fine.” And I agree with you. Many of us grew up with the Santa lie and we didn’t turn into pathological liars. What’s more, as parents, we are continuously choosing to let our children believe in the magic of Christmas and of Santa Claus (not because we want to make fools out of them, but because we want them to develop the same fond memories we ended up having about the winter holidays).

So in conclusion, if you want your child to believe in Santa Claus, you probably don’t have to worry about ruining their lives (but you might end up hurting their development if you constantly lie to them about other things). And when the jig is up, even though both you and your kid might feel sad about, just know that the kid will probably get over it quite fast. Now stop worrying and go wrap those presents. After all, Santa’s elves won’t do it for you.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

Encounter with reality: Children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth

Ho! Ho! Who? Parent promotion of belief in and live encounters with Santa Claus

A wonderful lie

Parenting by lying in childhood is associated with negative developmental outcomes in adulthood

Learning through observing: Effects of modeling truth‐ and lie‐telling on children’s honesty

Holidays and Mental Health

Română

Winter holidays are supposed to be times full of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but even the most Christmas-cheerful among us have to admit that the reality doesn’t always meet these expectations. On the contrary, the expectation of “a great time” or even “the perfect holiday” tends to bring about a lot of stress and anxiety (just think about the last time you went gift-hunting right before Christmas), as well as depressive symptoms (for example, due to not being able to be around your loved ones). Grounded in these observations, urban legend has it that holidays lead to an increase in mental disorders. More specifically, countless newspaper stories about increases in suicide are thrown at us every year, in an attempt to warn us about the impending doom that the horrifying monster of Christmas is about to rain down on us (of course, in addition to all the other impending doom that constantly threatens our meek existence; because if you’re not scaring your audience, you’re not doing it right). But, coming back, just because a belief is popular, it doesn’t automatically make it true, so in this post we’re asking ourselves: is that really true?

In order to answer this question, studies have focused mainly on three topics: substance abuse, mood disorders, and, finally, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. So let’s look at each of them separately.

Substance abuse

Several studies have reported that, during the holiday period, there is an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol poisoning. However, although one reason for this observed increase could be that people are indeed self-medicating with alcohol because holidays make them depressed, there are other potential explanations, which are at least equally plausible. People drink more during festive events because this is a time for relaxation, when they don’t have to worry about the next day’s hangover and they can just let loose. They also tend to consume more alcohol because that’s what others around them are doing. And of course, some need that one (or ten) extra shots just to be able to get through the never-ending annual interrogatory regarding their life plans (or lack thereof).

Mood disorders

At the same time, the same studies have also confirmed that people do tend to report lower moods, decreased life satisfaction, as well as decreased emotional well-being. In other words, it’s true that people tend to feel lousier around Christmas and that these feelings can cause higher depression rates during the holiday season. Based on participants’ reports, these feelings seem to be caused by the belief that others are having a better time.

Self-harm and suicide

But here’s the kicker: self-harm and suicide attempts are actually lower during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year (although, unfortunately, they tend to spike afterwards). Moreover, there are fewer patients who require admission into the psychiatric emergency services over the holidays, so, in that sense, Christmas seems to have sort of a protective effect against psychiatric pathology.

Conclusion

To sum up, winter holidays do lead to extra alcohol consumption (not a shocker) and more deaths due to alcohol poisoning, as well as an increase in mood disorders. However, the number of suicides, as well as the number of people requiring hospitalization in psychiatric facilities is actually decreasing during Christmas.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology

Suicide rate is lowest during the holiday season, but news stories continue to say the opposite

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

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It’s nice to meet you.

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Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

On the English Bias in Science Communication

Română In the scientific world, English has become the dominant language. Most scientific articles are published in English, most advanced science books are written in English, and most scientific conferences are held in English. In theory, this sounds great. By having all scientists capable of speaking the same language, one basically eliminates this barrier, thus… Read more On the English Bias in Science Communication

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Could Alzheimer’s Disease Be Caused by Viruses?

Română As you probably know, Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating neurological disorder affecting primarily older adults. Its most prominent symptom is progressive and irreversible memory loss. Furthermore, despite major concerted efforts of the world’s best scientists, to this day, this disorder remains shrouded in mystery, both in terms of causes, as well as potential treatments.… Read more Could Alzheimer’s Disease Be Caused by Viruses?

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It’s nice to meet you.

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Holidays and Mental Health

Română

Winter holidays are supposed to be times full of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but even the most Christmas-cheerful among us have to admit that the reality doesn’t always meet these expectations. On the contrary, the expectation of “a great time” or even “the perfect holiday” tends to bring about a lot of stress and anxiety (just think about the last time you went gift-hunting right before Christmas), as well as depressive symptoms (for example, due to not being able to be around your loved ones). Grounded in these observations, urban legend has it that holidays lead to an increase in mental disorders. More specifically, countless newspaper stories about increases in suicide are thrown at us every year, in an attempt to warn us about the impending doom that the horrifying monster of Christmas is about to rain down on us (of course, in addition to all the other impending doom that constantly threatens our meek existence; because if you’re not scaring your audience, you’re not doing it right). But, coming back, just because a belief is popular, it doesn’t automatically make it true, so in this post we’re asking ourselves: is that really true?

In order to answer this question, studies have focused mainly on three topics: substance abuse, mood disorders, and, finally, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. So let’s look at each of them separately.

Substance abuse

Several studies have reported that, during the holiday period, there is an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol poisoning. However, although one reason for this observed increase could be that people are indeed self-medicating with alcohol because holidays make them depressed, there are other potential explanations, which are at least equally plausible. People drink more during festive events because this is a time for relaxation, when they don’t have to worry about the next day’s hangover and they can just let loose. They also tend to consume more alcohol because that’s what others around them are doing. And of course, some need that one (or ten) extra shots just to be able to get through the never-ending annual interrogatory regarding their life plans (or lack thereof).

Mood disorders

At the same time, the same studies have also confirmed that people do tend to report lower moods, decreased life satisfaction, as well as decreased emotional well-being. In other words, it’s true that people tend to feel lousier around Christmas and that these feelings can cause higher depression rates during the holiday season. Based on participants’ reports, these feelings seem to be caused by the belief that others are having a better time.

Self-harm and suicide

But here’s the kicker: self-harm and suicide attempts are actually lower during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year (although, unfortunately, they tend to spike afterwards). Moreover, there are fewer patients who require admission into the psychiatric emergency services over the holidays, so, in that sense, Christmas seems to have sort of a protective effect against psychiatric pathology.

Conclusion

To sum up, winter holidays do lead to extra alcohol consumption (not a shocker) and more deaths due to alcohol poisoning, as well as an increase in mood disorders. However, the number of suicides, as well as the number of people requiring hospitalization in psychiatric facilities is actually decreasing during Christmas.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology

Suicide rate is lowest during the holiday season, but news stories continue to say the opposite

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

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Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

On the English Bias in Science Communication

Română In the scientific world, English has become the dominant language. Most scientific articles are published in English, most advanced science books are written in English, and most scientific conferences are held in English. In theory, this sounds great. By having all scientists capable of speaking the same language, one basically eliminates this barrier, thus… Read more On the English Bias in Science Communication

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It’s nice to meet you.

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Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Memories, Sweet Memories

Română

After an excruciatingly long week, the gifts are sitting nicely wrapped under the tree, the figgy pudding is gently resting on the table, your relatives finally figured out how to unmute themselves on Zoom and are now gesturing and blasting loudly from the small computer screen that can barely contain them anymore and you’re happy you’ve finally managed to sit down today. But as you sit there, gulping eggnog and tuning out the hundredth remark about how this year is the worst, your mind starts drifting away to better times. Your memory tells you that there used to be something special about Christmas, something that you’ve somehow lost this year. And while, objectively speaking, this year is truly the worst, if you think really, really hard about it, your memory is quite often recounting tales of “better, brighter times”, similar to how your grandpa always talks about the “good ol’ days”. But is memory that reliable or, much like your grandpa, does it have an ever-so-slight tendency to brush over the more…inconvenient parts? (If you know what I mean…)

Well, this might not be what you wanted to hear, but your memory is, unfortunately, not that accurate when it comes to emotions. But before we dive into the specifics, a quick note. When researchers talk about memories, they distinguish between various types. For example, remembering how to ride a bike is known as procedural memory and is a different type of memory from, let’s say, remembering the capital of Germany, which would be semantic memory. Similarly, memories about yourself form a distinct category and are part of the autobiographical memory. We will only talk about the latter in this article, and the distinction is relevant, as these various categories of memories are usually represented in separate areas of the brain and they also tend to behave differently over time (you never forget how to ride a bike, but, spoiler alert, you might misremember how happy you once were).

Now that we’ve established that tales of “better, brighter times” are called autobiographical memories, let’s move on. Autobiographical memories, in general, contain an affective component, be it shock, anger, or joy, which enhances the amount of details contained in the memory. This happens due to the fact that emotions trigger a cascade of neurochemical interactions, which in the end strengthen the representation of the memory in the brain. Furthermore, research has shown that events in which people are personally involved are remembered more vividly. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense: if a tiger chases you around the fifth tree from the cave, you’d better remember not to go there anymore; similarly, if that’s where you found food to last you for weeks, it would also be nice to keep it in mind.

However, while it might seem that autobiographical memories are more reliable, as they contain more details, they remain equally prone to misremembering. According to common belief, your memory stores some information and, every time you want to remember it, you just “read” from that folder, without changing anything. But actually, every time you pick up that folder, you might accidentally spill some coffee on one page or cross a few words on another. In other words, every time you remember something, you alter some details of the memory. What’s more, when it comes to autobiographical memories, your emotions (the affective component from earlier) also play an important role.

On the one hand, people tend to generally have a positive image of themselves and they also naturally strive towards improved well-being. Taken together, these things lead to an automatic, unconscious bias towards positive memories, which is already apparent during memory encoding. For example, participants who received both positive and negative feedback in an experiment showed better recall of the positive feedback compared to the negative one. On the other hand, as mentioned before, memories become altered as they are remembered. At the same time, the mood at the time of remembering tends to become imprinted on the memory itself (so if you’re really happy and you remember a sad memory, you might reappraise it such that, in the end, it doesn’t seem so sad anymore).

In other words, we usually remember more good things and forget more bad ones because our brain is trying to maintain our general well-being. And in case that might not be enough or we couldn’t forget certain things, our brain has an extra mechanism to help out: it takes advantage of the malleability of our memories and actually changes the negative ones. So next time you find yourself wondering whether you’ve really lost that Christmas “something”, you’ll know it’s probably not true. But you’ll also know your awesome brain is always looking out for you.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

Emotion and Autobiographical Memory

Remembering the Details: Effects of Emotion

A “Rosy View” of the Past: Positive Memory Biases

Remembering the silver lining: Reappraisal and positive bias in memory for emotion

Santa’s Lie

Română

As children, we’re taught that lying is bad and we should absolutely never do it. But as we grow up, we often land in morally gray areas: should you tell your short-tempered boss that the countless hours spent in Zoom meetings make you want to poke your eyes out or would it be better to fake a smile and quietly wait for it to be over? And should you tell your children that their presents were brought by flying reindeer and a guy in a red suit or go with the sadder truth that they were delivered by an overworked and underpaid courier? If this were a philosophy blog, we could spend hours discussing what would be the moral choice and even more hours trying to define morality. But (luckily) it’s not, so we can forget about all that stuff and focus on what really matters: what are the neurobehavioural motivations for and implications of the Santa Claus lie, both from the parents’ and the children’s perspective?

From a behavioural perspective, studies have shown that parents generally strongly promote the existence of Santa Claus in front of their children, regardless of child age (and, as we all know, the older the children get, the more elaborate the lies have to be). When questioned with respect to their motivations for encouraging this belief, parents usually report that they wish to create magic for their children and to “allow them to be kids for as long as possible”. But neuroscience suggests there might be an underlying reason: parents might also be motivated by a desire to return to the joy of childhood themselves. In line with this observation, parents also tend to describe themselves as predominantly sad when their children stop believing in Santa Claus.

When it comes to children though, the scientific literature is not so clear. Some studies describe children as having quite strong negative reactions, such as disappointment, sadness or anger upon finding out the truth, while others suggest that, even though these reactions might be present, they are usually short-lived and become quickly replaced by more positive emotions. Furthermore, because there are relatively few studies specifically on this topic, what often gets brought up as an argument against Santa Claus is more general research concerning the negative impact of parental lying on the long-term behaviour of children (which does indeed lead to increased lying and poorer psychosocial adjustment in adulthood). Based on this observation, coupled with the idea that, when someone is lied to, they become rightfully distrustful of that person, many articles jump to the conclusion that lying about Santa will ruin your kids’ lives.

“Really?”, you might think. “I believed in Santa when I was a kid and I turned out just fine.” And I agree with you. Many of us grew up with the Santa lie and we didn’t turn into pathological liars. What’s more, as parents, we are continuously choosing to let our children believe in the magic of Christmas and of Santa Claus (not because we want to make fools out of them, but because we want them to develop the same fond memories we ended up having about the winter holidays).

So in conclusion, if you want your child to believe in Santa Claus, you probably don’t have to worry about ruining their lives (but you might end up hurting their development if you constantly lie to them about other things). And when the jig is up, even though both you and your kid might feel sad about, just know that the kid will probably get over it quite fast. Now stop worrying and go wrap those presents. After all, Santa’s elves won’t do it for you.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

Encounter with reality: Children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth

Ho! Ho! Who? Parent promotion of belief in and live encounters with Santa Claus

A wonderful lie

Parenting by lying in childhood is associated with negative developmental outcomes in adulthood

Learning through observing: Effects of modeling truth‐ and lie‐telling on children’s honesty

Holidays and Mental Health

Română

Winter holidays are supposed to be times full of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but even the most Christmas-cheerful among us have to admit that the reality doesn’t always meet these expectations. On the contrary, the expectation of “a great time” or even “the perfect holiday” tends to bring about a lot of stress and anxiety (just think about the last time you went gift-hunting right before Christmas), as well as depressive symptoms (for example, due to not being able to be around your loved ones). Grounded in these observations, urban legend has it that holidays lead to an increase in mental disorders. More specifically, countless newspaper stories about increases in suicide are thrown at us every year, in an attempt to warn us about the impending doom that the horrifying monster of Christmas is about to rain down on us (of course, in addition to all the other impending doom that constantly threatens our meek existence; because if you’re not scaring your audience, you’re not doing it right). But, coming back, just because a belief is popular, it doesn’t automatically make it true, so in this post we’re asking ourselves: is that really true?

In order to answer this question, studies have focused mainly on three topics: substance abuse, mood disorders, and, finally, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. So let’s look at each of them separately.

Substance abuse

Several studies have reported that, during the holiday period, there is an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol poisoning. However, although one reason for this observed increase could be that people are indeed self-medicating with alcohol because holidays make them depressed, there are other potential explanations, which are at least equally plausible. People drink more during festive events because this is a time for relaxation, when they don’t have to worry about the next day’s hangover and they can just let loose. They also tend to consume more alcohol because that’s what others around them are doing. And of course, some need that one (or ten) extra shots just to be able to get through the never-ending annual interrogatory regarding their life plans (or lack thereof).

Mood disorders

At the same time, the same studies have also confirmed that people do tend to report lower moods, decreased life satisfaction, as well as decreased emotional well-being. In other words, it’s true that people tend to feel lousier around Christmas and that these feelings can cause higher depression rates during the holiday season. Based on participants’ reports, these feelings seem to be caused by the belief that others are having a better time.

Self-harm and suicide

But here’s the kicker: self-harm and suicide attempts are actually lower during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year (although, unfortunately, they tend to spike afterwards). Moreover, there are fewer patients who require admission into the psychiatric emergency services over the holidays, so, in that sense, Christmas seems to have sort of a protective effect against psychiatric pathology.

Conclusion

To sum up, winter holidays do lead to extra alcohol consumption (not a shocker) and more deaths due to alcohol poisoning, as well as an increase in mood disorders. However, the number of suicides, as well as the number of people requiring hospitalization in psychiatric facilities is actually decreasing during Christmas.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Sources

The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology

Suicide rate is lowest during the holiday season, but news stories continue to say the opposite

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

On the English Bias in Science Communication

Română In the scientific world, English has become the dominant language. Most scientific articles are published in English, most advanced science books are written in English, and most scientific conferences are held in English. In theory, this sounds great. By having all scientists capable of speaking the same language, one basically eliminates this barrier, thus… Read more On the English Bias in Science Communication

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Could Alzheimer’s Disease Be Caused by Viruses?

Română As you probably know, Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating neurological disorder affecting primarily older adults. Its most prominent symptom is progressive and irreversible memory loss. Furthermore, despite major concerted efforts of the world’s best scientists, to this day, this disorder remains shrouded in mystery, both in terms of causes, as well as potential treatments.… Read more Could Alzheimer’s Disease Be Caused by Viruses?

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It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

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Holidays and Mental Health

Română

Winter holidays are supposed to be times full of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but even the most Christmas-cheerful among us have to admit that the reality doesn’t always meet these expectations. On the contrary, the expectation of “a great time” or even “the perfect holiday” tends to bring about a lot of stress and anxiety (just think about the last time you went gift-hunting right before Christmas), as well as depressive symptoms (for example, due to not being able to be around your loved ones). Grounded in these observations, urban legend has it that holidays lead to an increase in mental disorders. More specifically, countless newspaper stories about increases in suicide are thrown at us every year, in an attempt to warn us about the impending doom that the horrifying monster of Christmas is about to rain down on us (of course, in addition to all the other impending doom that constantly threatens our meek existence; because if you’re not scaring your audience, you’re not doing it right). But, coming back, just because a belief is popular, it doesn’t automatically make it true, so in this post we’re asking ourselves: is that really true?

In order to answer this question, studies have focused mainly on three topics: substance abuse, mood disorders, and, finally, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. So let’s look at each of them separately.

Substance abuse

Several studies have reported that, during the holiday period, there is an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol poisoning. However, although one reason for this observed increase could be that people are indeed self-medicating with alcohol because holidays make them depressed, there are other potential explanations, which are at least equally plausible. People drink more during festive events because this is a time for relaxation, when they don’t have to worry about the next day’s hangover and they can just let loose. They also tend to consume more alcohol because that’s what others around them are doing. And of course, some need that one (or ten) extra shots just to be able to get through the never-ending annual interrogatory regarding their life plans (or lack thereof).

Mood disorders

At the same time, the same studies have also confirmed that people do tend to report lower moods, decreased life satisfaction, as well as decreased emotional well-being. In other words, it’s true that people tend to feel lousier around Christmas and that these feelings can cause higher depression rates during the holiday season. Based on participants’ reports, these feelings seem to be caused by the belief that others are having a better time.

Self-harm and suicide

But here’s the kicker: self-harm and suicide attempts are actually lower during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year (although, unfortunately, they tend to spike afterwards). Moreover, there are fewer patients who require admission into the psychiatric emergency services over the holidays, so, in that sense, Christmas seems to have sort of a protective effect against psychiatric pathology.

Conclusion

To sum up, winter holidays do lead to extra alcohol consumption (not a shocker) and more deaths due to alcohol poisoning, as well as an increase in mood disorders. However, the number of suicides, as well as the number of people requiring hospitalization in psychiatric facilities is actually decreasing during Christmas.

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Sources

The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology

Suicide rate is lowest during the holiday season, but news stories continue to say the opposite

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

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It’s nice to meet you.

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Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

On the English Bias in Science Communication

Română In the scientific world, English has become the dominant language. Most scientific articles are published in English, most advanced science books are written in English, and most scientific conferences are held in English. In theory, this sounds great. By having all scientists capable of speaking the same language, one basically eliminates this barrier, thus… Read more On the English Bias in Science Communication

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Christmas Cheer in the Brain

Română

We all have that one friend who, as soon as December 1st strikes, breaks out the Christmas decorations, starts blasting “Jingle Bells” all day long, and goes on and on about how “’tis the season to be jolly” (hint: if you can’t think who that friend might be, it’s probably you). But what makes some people be overwhelmed by joy and nostalgia in relation to Christmas, while others would rather cut their ears off before listening to yet another merry carol? That’s exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Denmark set out to investigate.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored the brain activity of 20 people while they viewed both Christmas and non-Christmas images. These 20 people were also split into two groups, based on their Christmas celebration habits: 10 of them routinely celebrated Christmas, while the other 10 had absolutely no Christmas-related traditions.

What the researchers found was that the Christmasy group had increased activity in a bunch of brain areas (sensory motor, premotor, and primary motor cortex, as well as the inferior and superior parietal lobules) compared to the non-Christmasy group when viewing Christmas-related images. These areas have been associated with spirituality, experiencing emotions shared with others, and recognition of facial emotions, among others, so if there is such a thing as a representation of the Christmas spirit in the brain, it makes sense to find it in this network.

Grinch’s side

Before you go celebrate these findings with another mug of mulled wine (or drown your sorrows in it, depending on what side of the fence you’re on), it’s worth taking a second to ask: do these findings really prove once and for all that the Christmas spirit lives in the inferior parietal lobule? Short answer: hard nope.

Long answer: while the study brings some evidence in support of this hypothesis, there are several other things that need to be investigated. For one, were there any other differences between the two groups that might’ve led to these results? (Researchers only asked them about their Christmas habits.) Would the same pattern of activation be observed if the participants had viewed other, non-Christmas images that made them feel joyful and nostalgic? Does this work for other holidays (e.g., Diwali or Easter)? The results should also be replicated in a larger group of people. And finally, neuroscientists are still debating whether trying to localize complex emotions in specific parts of the brain even makes sense in the first place, so the answer throw this study in a new light. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole and we’ve definitely not had enough mulled wine for that just yet.

What did you think about this post? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with our most recent posts.

Source

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6266

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Why Do We Sleep?

“Why do we sleep?”, your kid might ask in an annoying, but curious voice over and over again as you actually start falling asleep. But do you actually know the answer to that? “Just resting our eyes and shutting down our brains, sweetie!” Wrong again, Karen. If you think it shuts down, like a computer… Read more Why Do We Sleep?

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox.

Read our privacy policy for more info.

Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

Română One of the most popular methods in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is to correlate various behaviours, either normal or abnormal, with different patterns of brain activity. An implicit hope when it comes to abnormal behaviour is that, if we are capable of isolating the brain region which shows a dysfunction in relation to the… Read more Neurofeedback – Reality or Myth?

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It’s nice to meet you.

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